Introducing My Practise + recent dramatic improvement

Daniel, modified 2 Years ago at 10/4/20 11:42 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 10/4/20 11:42 PM

Introducing My Practise + recent dramatic improvement

Posts: 2 Join Date: 10/4/20 Recent Posts
Hi Everyone. Thanks so much for setting up such a helpful resource here! I'm enjoying the lack of stigma on discussing attainments so that people can actually be helped with precision in their practise. Just wanted to share my current situation in case it resonates with anyone and there's also a question or two at the end emoticon

I'm now 35 and used to practise anapanasati and body scan (in the Goenka tradition) for 3 years from 2010-12 every day. I did 3 Goenka retreats over those years but, outside of those retreats, only practised for 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening (as opposed to the Goenka recommendation to do one hour, twice a day). I started working full-time in 2013 and life took over to the point where I lost the motivation to practise due to the following reasons:

I was much busier / I have a sceptical, practical take on the dharma (like most people here I think?) so all the metaphysical stuff and subtle, ambiguous concepts that accompany this material was causing me to question whether I had drunk the Kool-Aid in a sort of strange-mass-delusion / I hit a rut in my meditation practise and, over those three years, despite helping me in countless other ways, meditation had not helped with my viola performance stage-fright or social anxiety in general (I was a Music student at the time) / I had started to read about the jhanas and after three years of daily practise with nothing even close to others' descriptions of piti arising I was a bit disheartened. 

Anyway, I've since become a Primary School music teacher and any tranquility I once developed in meditation quickly evaporated to the point where, over the last four years I've found myself sometimes yelling at particularly 'unhelpful' students and not being able to catch my anger before expressing it. This has led me back to practising meditation daily, starting only 3 months ago. 

The interesting thing is that, in only 3 months of returning to practise after an 8-year gap, my concentration practise seems to have reached a level that, if I had reached back in 2012, I don't think I would have stopped practising. I renewed my interest in the jhanas and ended up listening to some talks from Rob Burbea's Jhana Retreat on DharmaSeed. The instructions on a couple of his meditation guides has helped me to really open up and extend my meditation to the point where I'm now actually enjoying two, one-hour sits a day without pain exhausting my equanimity. I know the main point of meditation is not to always be enjoyable haha but lengthening my breaths in a comfortable way and keeping my focus on the lovely relaxing qualities of the breath (especially the out-breath), while keeping an awareness on my whole body has consistently been bringing me to levels of easeful concentration and sensory clarity that I've never experienced before. Here are Rob Burbea's instructions that have been helping me so much (I just cut and pasted them from the 'Rob Burbea Transcription Project'):

So you don’t have to get rid of any image of your physical form, your hands, your legs, your toes, if that’s there, but you also don’t have to reinforce it. What we’re more interested in is the felt sense, the texture, the vibration of this space. So not a problem if there’s an image of the body, but you don’t have to reinforce it either. Eventually, that begins to fade. How does it feel? So the awareness will keep shrinking. It will shrink a thousand times. And just keep opening it out to just a little bit bigger than the physical body space, and fill that with alive awareness, presence.
And then, keeping that whole-body awareness, just noticing the breath as it comes and goes. And noticing how it affects the whole body, how it affects the sense, the felt sense, of that whole space, how it feels in the whole space or makes that whole space feel. Of course, that changes with the in-breath, with the out-breath, at different points. Whole-body awareness, noticing the effects of the breath.
And then, when you’re ready, beginning to establish this longest breath. Right now, not with a count. We’ll leave the counting out. What’s the longest comfortable breath? Not a strain, but way longer than you would usually take. Slow, smooth, comfortable. You don’t need to move a lot of air. Relatively speaking, it’s quite a subtle breath. So whole body space, felt sense of that; longest breath in and out – long, slow, smooth.
Now, can you notice this whole space, the whole body, can you feel the expansion of that whole space with the in-breath? And just what does that feel like? So it’s not just your ribcage and your lungs; the whole body, that whole space, including where your feet would be, your head – places we don’t usually think of as breathing. Actually that whole space is expanding. What does that feel like? And with the exhalation, there’s a kind of opposite movement. What does that feel like? So in the whole space, attuned, alive, filled with awareness; the longest breath. Just how does it feel, the expansion and the contraction with the breath? Really tuning to that and feeling it.

In another guide he mentions focusing on the relaxing qualities of the exhalation and the energising qualities of the inhalation and that has also been really helpful. I don't think I've heard any other teachers recommend extending the breath in this way to aid in emphasising the relaxing qualities of the breath? I feel like I can sit down and immediately start 'surfing' those relaxing feelings towards increasing concentration. There's something about doing this while keeping an awareness on my whole body that has taken my concentration to new level. It's not that piti has arisen for me or anything (just some moderate vibratory tingles mostly in my legs and head), but meditation has become so much more pleasant and there's a sense that my newly aquired indistractibility is progressing towards absorption. It's interesting that Burbea suggests extending the breath and expanding awareness as a way to access jhana while Leigh Brasington recommends breathing as shallowly as possible and focusing on more contracted aspects of experience (like the breath at nostrils or pleasant sensations of smiling). Any thoughts on this? Has anyone had the same sort of improvements by following Burbea's instructions? And does anyone think purposely limiting oxygen (i.e. Brasington's instructions) is a prerequisite for piti to arise? 
Martin, modified 2 Years ago at 10/5/20 12:39 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 10/5/20 12:39 AM

RE: Introducing My Practise + recent dramatic improvement

Posts: 616 Join Date: 4/25/20 Recent Posts
That sounds so great! 

I haven't tried Rob Burbea's jhana instructions but I love The Seeing That Frees. I'll have to check them out. Relaxation as a way into the jhanas also reminds me of Bhante Vimalaraṁsi's approach, which I found very effective (immediately effective). Ajahn Brahm has a similar fondness for relaxation into the jhanas, though his instructions take longer to produce results for me.  

I would agree that Leigh Brasington's approach is sort of constriction focused but it works well for me, even without inducing hypoxia. Interestingly, though, the impact on my life off the cushion seems greater when I am following Vimalaraṁsi or Brahm's instructions. Fewer fireworks at the time, but more insight afterward.

Anyway, I just wanted to give you a thumbs up, but as we don't have a like button, I wrote this instead :-).
Daniel, modified 2 Years ago at 10/5/20 12:57 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 10/5/20 12:57 AM

RE: Introducing My Practise + recent dramatic improvement

Posts: 2 Join Date: 10/4/20 Recent Posts
Thanks so much, Martin! I look forward to reading 'The Seeing That Frees' and I hadn't heard of Bhante Vimaralamsa. From what I can see on Wikipedia I'm looking forward to hearing his take on absorption with an emphasis in relaxation.

I've been noticing more ease in daily life after practising in this way too emoticon